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A growing number of people are reluctant to bring a child into a world that will be devastated by climate change in the decades to come.
It comes shortly after the United Nations issued a “red code for humanity” when the world’s leading climate scientists issued their sharpest warning to date of the worsening climate emergency. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on Monday said global temperatures are likely to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next two decades, surpassing a key goal of the Paris Agreement – a groundbreaking deal that is considered crucial to reduce the risk of a climate catastrophe.
Scientists’ increasingly bleak prospects for the planet’s future are preventing more and more people from having children.
Morgan Stanley analysts said in a statement to investors last month that “the move to not have children due to fears about climate change is increasing and affecting fertility rates faster than any previous trend in fertility decline”.
To back up their argument, they cited surveys, academic research, and Google data showing that climate change is directly and indirectly accelerating the decline in birth rates. UCLA researchers showed that the number of births in the US fell in the nine months following an extreme heat event, while a study of 18,000 couples in China last year showed that climate change, and particulate matter in particular, was 20% more likely to occur were associated with sterility.
Some people choose not to have children because they fear it will add to global warming.
“Having a child is seven times worse for the climate in terms of annual carbon emissions than the next 10 most talked about abatement measures that individuals can do,” said Morgan Stanley analysts.
A Swedish study published in IOPscience in 2017 found that one less child per family in developed countries could save about 58.6 tons of CO2 each year.
However, Kimberley Nicholas, one of the study’s authors, said in an interview with Vox earlier this year that population reduction is not the way to solve the climate crisis. “It’s true that more people use more resources and cause more greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “But that’s not really the relevant timeframe to actually stabilize the climate, as we have this decade to cut emissions in half.”
Endure extreme weather
Others are concerned about extreme weather events their children may face and the likely consequences. For example, harvests may fail in some parts of the world.
Daniel, a 35-year-old British man who currently lives in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has been married to his partner for almost 12 years. They used to be open to the idea of having children in their relationship, but are less interested in it now.
“In recent years, the climate has definitely contributed to the fact that we don’t want children,” Daniel told CNBC, calling for his last name to be removed from the story because he feared he could be attacked online by people who disagree are .
The couple, who rely on air conditioning for most of the year and like to travel, have been looking for ways to significantly offset their carbon footprint. “We thought about it for a long time and quickly realized that adding another person to the world would have a huge impact on the environment,” said Daniel.
Children cool off in the water of a park when a heat wave hits the city on July 16, 2021 in Shenyang, China’s Liaoning Province.
VCG | Visual China Group | Getty Images
Prince Harry said in 2019 that he and his wife Meghan are planning to have a maximum of two children, citing environmental concerns.
The topic of getting more people into a warming world is being debated by people on social media with a large following.
On a 2019 Instagram livestream to her 1.5 million followers, New York MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 31, said, “There is fundamental scientific consensus that children’s lives are going to be very difficult I think young people have one fair question: is it okay to still have children? “
Jessica Combes, a 39-year-old English teacher, told CNBC, “I refuse to take children to the burning hellish landscape we call a planet.”
Combes said she was always unsure whether she would have children of her own. “Now when I look at the state of the economy, shabby global health and climate change, I just feel that all of my concerns are legitimate,” she said.
I refuse to take children to the burning hellish landscape we call a planet.
Some of those who already have children are also concerned. Thom James, 39, managing partner of advertising and public relations firm Havas UK, told CNBC: “I had a major depressive episode last year based on existential fears of the world my children would grow up in.”
James has two girls, ages three and six. “Worrying about their future is a common trigger for me,” he said. “I keep thinking about when it will be appropriate to stop them from having children of their own because I think we have really passed the point of no going back.”
Of course, at some point humanity would cease to exist if everyone stopped having children. A fringe anti-natalist group believes that is exactly what should happen, but most people do not share this view.
Indeed, many people view children as a basic human right that can bring happiness and joy to families.
However, the climate emergency is due to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, not population growth.
The IPCC report warned that some of the climate changes observed by researchers – such as persistent sea level rise – are likely to be “irreversible for hundreds to thousands of years.”
The report also reiterated the urgent need for “strong and sustainable” reductions in carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases in order to limit climate change.
UN Secretary General António Guterres said the results were “a red code for humanity”.
He added, “This report must ring a death sentence for coal and fossil fuels before they destroy our planet.”
The world’s fossil fuel dependency is currently expected to worsen in the coming decades, even as policy makers publicly acknowledge the need to transition to a low-carbon society.
– CNBC’s Sam Meredith contributed to this report.